Memorial Day has come and gone for 2012. Flags have been placed on gravesites, and the fallen heroes of America’s wars have been honored. However, as veterans and their family members pass on, they take their memories with them, including the location of hundreds of military gravesites. Now, with the help of GPS technology, one chapter of the American Legion in Oxford, Iowa, is making an effort to locate and map the final resting place of more than 300 soldiers in six Johnson County cemeteries.
Each year, people wishing to honor those who have served our country hunt through cemeteries and check limited records for headstones noting the location of a deceased veteran, but this takes time and effort. This year, the sons of American Legion Squadron 537 are taking down GPS latitude and longitude coordinates for each gravesite they come across as they lay out flags. Using a compilation of local American Legion data, cemetery records, and information from the Johnson County Veteran Affairs Department, volunteers and members of 537 hope to have a complete list of GPS coordinates for veterans buried in Johnson County, which can then be accessed through not only the Johnson County website and the American Legion website but also genealogical websites.
When it comes to victims of war, America’s motto has always been, “Never Forget.” And according to John Derner, the department adjutant for the American Legion of Iowa, this is actually one of the main objectives for his organization, “to preserve the memory of those who served before us.” So far, Oxford is the only city trying to remember its servicemen and women with GPS technology. Des Moines may soon follow suit in its efforts to uncover veterans of the Civil War in its oldest cemeteries. Not only will it be easier for volunteers to place flags on graves for patriotic holidays, but as the curator of the Johnson County Historical Society points out, historians and people researching their family tree will also benefit.
As workers continue their efforts in Oxford, Iowa, the city’s history is more fully and accurately represented with a GPS coordinated map that will help citizens honor their dead. Hopefully, no veteran will be forgotten. The group from Squadron 537 anticipates completing its project by the next patriotic holiday of this year, July 4.